Saturday, 24 February 2018

Review: 'A Burst of Light: and Other Essays' by Audre Lorde

For me reading is not just about enjoyment, but also about improving myself. Some books combine those two aspects, and one of those books is A Burst of Light. A collection of essays and journal entries written by Audre Lorde, this book has a lot to offer to any reader curious about both Lorde and her experiences. It is also an incredibly touching read at times, showing just why Lorde became as influential as she did. Thanks to Dover Publications, Ixia Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 13/09/2017
Publisher: Dover Publications; Ixia Press
"Lorde's words — on race, cancer, intersectionality, parenthood, injustice — burn with relevance 25 years after her death." — O, The Oprah Magazine
Winner of the 1988 Before Columbus Foundation National Book Award, this path-breaking collection of essays is a clarion call to build communities that nurture our spirit. Lorde announces the need for a radical politics of intersectionality while struggling to maintain her own faith as she wages a battle against liver cancer. From reflections on her struggle with the disease to thoughts on lesbian sexuality and African-American identity in a straight white man's world, Lorde's voice remains enduringly relevant in today's political landscape. 
Those who practice and encourage social justice activism frequently quote her exhortation, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." In addition to the journal entries of "A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer," this edition includes an interview, "Sadomasochism: Not About Condemnation," and three essays, "I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities," "Apartheid U.S.A.," and "Turning the Beat Around: Lesbian Parenting 1986," as well as a new Foreword by Sonia Sanchez.
"You don't read Audre Lorde, you feel her." — Essence
The title for this collection of essays is from Audre Lorde’s poem ‘Never To Dream of Spiders’, of which ‘a burst of light’ is the last line. This has always been one of my favourite poems by Lorde, despite the fact it partially makes me sad. I always feel like there is a sense of foreboding doom, of misery and death there. And yet the poem also holds beautiful memories of love and togetherness and a sense of perseverance and strength. The reason I want to explain my thought on the poem is because I think they reflect on A Burst of Light itself as well. The poem’s ‘condemnation within my blood’ refers to Lorde’s battle with cancer, which plays a big role in the essays in this book. However, Lorde’s life was also one marked both by struggle as well as achievement, condemnation and recognition, rejection and acceptance.

Her whole life Audre Lorde fought, and the essays collected in A Burst of Light are a testimony to that. ‘Sadomasocism: Not About Condemnation’ shows Lorde addressing female sexuality, as well as the power play between the sexes both within and without the bedroom. In ‘I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities’ she discusses her identity as both a black woman and a lesbian and the conflict between those two identities. ‘Apartheid U.S.A’ shows both Lorde’s deep care for women and oppressed people around the world as well as the anger that kept her going. Her comparisons between her America and the South African Apartheid regime she sees on the TV are sharp but true. In ‘Turning the Beat Around: Lesbian Parenting 1986’ she discusses the pitfalls of parenting, especially those that appear in your way if society looks sideways at you. The largest part of A Burst of Light is made up of the eponymous ‘A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer’. This is truly where I started understanding the drive that helped Lorde to write and fight so. Her desire to own her own body and to be herself, to be able to live and love freely, it all comes out in these journal entries as we follow Lorde from her diagnosis through different treatments and different moods.

Lorde’s writing is inspiring, especially when she writes about the civil rights movement and feminism. It is fascinating to read the constant work she does, the effort she puts into considering and debating everything, assessing the world we live in and trying to change it for the better. But reading her work has a very different effect on me than, for example, reading Gloria Steinem’s work. Although I like her poetry I have always struggled a little bit with Audre Lorde, and that is also true of A Burst of Light. When I read Steinem’s On the Road there were a lot of things that I could relate to. That is not the case with Audre Lorde. Living as a black, gay woman in America, Lorde had experiences that I will never have to face, that I can only appreciate from a remove but not really identify with. To pretend I could would almost be an affront to Lorde’s work, and so reading A Burst of Light was very much a learning opportunity. I don’t understand all of her anger because it is rooted in how the world was fundamentally different for her than it is for me, but by learning about her I also learn about the experiences of countless women across the world right now. Feminism still has a long road to go to becoming truly intersectional, but by reading A Burst of Light I have found myself moving further down that road.

I give this book…
4 Universes!

A Burst of Light is a truly inspirational and touching read. Lorde’s love and strength come through so clearly in the essays chosen for this book that I walked away feeling like I’d just had a conversation with her myself. Her bravery in the face of cancer and her determination to do things her way are lessons I will carry with me from now on.

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